Giz Gadgets: Robot Athletes, Robot Butlers and Robot Citizens

Each new week brings with it an abundance of new gadgets — whether devised by tech giants like Google and Samsung or pushed by hopeful entrepreneurs to Kickstarter, they run the gamut from useful to niche to tech that nobody really needs. This week we've got robots galore — whether they're designed to help humans, in-depth neural networks or just bots gaining their own autonomy.


The Role Your Hands Play In Virtual Reality

In cases of both virtual and augmented reality, what your hands are doing need to be seen and interpreted. If you can’t interact with your hands in a virtual world, you can't do anything. Say you want to pick up items from a virtual desktop, drive a virtual car or produce virtual pottery. The hands are obviously key.

A new system has been developed which uses a "convolutional neural network" that mimics the human brain and is capable of "deep learning" to understand the hand's nearly endless complexity of joint angles and contortions.

"We figure out where your hands are and where your fingers are and all the motions of the hands and fingers in real time," said Karthik Ramani, Purdue University’s Donald W. Feddersen Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the C Design Lab.

Ramani created a system called DeepHand, which uses a depth-sensing camera to capture your hand, and specialised algorithms then interpret hand motions.

"It's called a spatial user interface because you are interfacing with the computer in space instead of on a touch screen or keyboard,” Ramani said.

The researchers "trained" DeepHand with a database of 2.5 million hand poses and configurations. The positions of finger joints are assigned specific "feature vectors" that can be quickly retrieved.


Hi) Is Your New Butler (But Really Just A Connected Doorbell)

Hi is marketed as a 'connected butler,' and the little device with its tapered stem even looks like a highly stylised butler figure. With a camera and internet connectivity, it offers one way video and two way voice communication with anyone who is at your home.

"With Hi) there's always someone home!" the IndieGogo campaign says, and the device does function like a pared-back smarthome hub. With Hi, you can remotely open (or at least unlock) your front door and even turn your lights on or off or open your shutters from your phone. Presumably, you do need some sort of compatible technology to allow this, however. The doorbell will send a push notification when it detects activity, allowing you to keep an eye on your house even while you're away.

The campaign price for units is $US299, with an eventual retail price of $399, and the campaign has almost reached its goal of $50,000.


Robots In Europe Could Become 'Electronic Persons'

Machines are taking over the world, and some members of the European Parliament aren’t very happy about it. Robots in the EU may soon be classed as “electronic persons” if the Parliament adopts a new set of rules on robotics.

The drafted motion would mean that robots had “specific rights and obligations”, and that robot owners have to pay social security for any robot they own. That’s largely a reaction to fears that robots are taking more and more human jobs, leading to increased unemployment and a reduced social safety net. The owner would also be responsible for paying specialised taxes and being held accountable for legal liabilities.

If you think this sounds ridiculous — just wait. It gets even weirder. The motion casually touches on the destruction of mankind like this:

Ultimately there is a possibility that within the space of some decades AI might surpass human intellectual capacity in a manner which, if not prepared for, could pose a challenge to humanity’s capacity to control its own creation and consequently perhaps also to its capacity to be in charge of its own destiny and to ensure the survival of its species...


Evelyn Wants To Keep Your Lungs Healthy

Evelyn is an interesting name for what is being called a 'Personal Air Pollution Wearable'. It syncs to a cloud database that monitors air pollution in different areas, and is able to direct users to areas with higher air quality. Considering we often have little choice over the areas we have to inhabit or walk through, I'm not quite sure if Evelyn is going to find its market, but the idea of a wearable that tracks the increasingly worrisome issue of air pollution is interesting.

Evelyn failed to reach its funding goal on IndieGogo, but its likely it will still be developed. Does the concept have any merit to it? Is there a need for this kind of tech in an increasingly polluted world? Let us know what you think in the comments.


This Robot Luggage Handler Will Give You Even More Time To Stand In A Check-In Line

Every airline claims it has a better solution for the logistical hellscape that is checked luggage, from fancy new RFID tags to charging $$$ to deter the practice entirely. But the only way to never lose a bag again is to completely automate the process. Which is exactly what this adorable robot is designed to do.

Leo is an autonomous baggage handler designed by SITA, a company that designs technology tools for airlines. In this video, Leo can be seen scooting around the Geneva Airport, where it is able to take luggage from passengers and make sure the bags get on the proper flight.

From the passenger experience side, it seems pretty seamless. Passengers scan their boarding passes to get Leo’s doors to open, and Leo prints the appropriate tags. Then the doors close and Leo displays the boarding gate and departure time before zipping the bags directly to the handling area. The advantage to the airports is that bags never enter the terminal, freeing up more space for check in. Or maybe more lines!


Badminton-Playing Robot Will Destroy You On The Court

Table tennis-playing robots that can keep up with the likes of Forrest Gump are impressive, sure. But students and professors at the University of Electronic Science and Technology of China took on a greater challenge when they built a badminton-playing robot that can quickly cover an entire court and return almost any shot.

Using a pair of hi-def video cameras to produce stereo images that are wirelessly streamed to an external computer for processing, the badminton-playing robot can track and calculate the exact trajectory of an opponent’s shot, ensuring that it’s always in the exact spot to make a return.

It’s doubtful the robot would be allowed to compete on a professional level for countless reasons, the least of which being the fact that it uses a pair of rackets, mounted at different angles, to effectively return different types of serves. But as fast and capable as the robot appears, without the ability to aggressively smash a return back at its opponents, there’s little chance it could win a match against a talented player. Unless it’s going for the endurance approach, tiring out its opponent by returning every shot sent its way for hours and hours on end. And that’s how the robots will inevitably take over the world.

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